Stress Free Guide To International Travel With Kids: Essential Tips

Estimated read time 15 min read

Culture exposure is one of the best things you can do for your children. An inexpensive, easy way to do this is to travel but it can be scary to take on International travel with kids.. Although some people are reluctant to travel with their kids, there are plenty of tricks and tips to make it a smooth experience.

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Accuracy in Booking

The most important thing for booking family travel or any travel is accurate names and ages of all travelers. You don’t want to lose money and time because of errors that keep you from boarding your flight.  Your booking information should always match your identity documentation.  

Travelling With Kids

Not all airports are created equal.  One may have nursing facilities while another barely has family restrooms.  Always check the airports you’re traveling to for their amenities to see what might come in handy and what you might need to plan around.  It’s always best to check the source, most airports have a website with this information readily available including useful airport maps.

It’s also not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the map of the airport before you arrive.  It will help keep you from going in the wrong direction or needing to ask for help which will save you time.

Did you include the kids in the planning? Setting expectations can go a long way towards the actual experience.  They remember what you say really well, even if they pretend not to.  So, go ahead and bring it up several times before the actual trip.  Let them know what you expect of them and what they can expect as far as travel times, things to do, and experiences to look forward to.

Is the destination child friendly? From the hotel to the area, check for parks, playgrounds, pools, child-friendly restaurants, concierge and babysitting services including can you get needed baby supplies easily?

Will there be ample downtime to get settled once you arrive?  Have you left time for naps, feedings, changes, and free time?

What is the best age for kids to travel overseas?

The answer can vary depending on your family’s needs, but let’s break it down:

  • Babies and Toddlers (0-2 Years) Traveling with babies and toddlers can be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, they’re usually free or discounted when it comes to airfare and accommodations. Plus, they’re pretty portable at this age. But let’s be real, the diaper changes, feedings, and unpredictable sleep schedules can be challenging. If you’re a parent who’s comfortable with baby-wearing and has a knack for on-the-go diaper changes, then why not?
  • Preschoolers (3-5 Years) The age of endless curiosity! Preschoolers can make enthusiastic travel companions, eager to explore and ask a million questions. They’re also a bit more manageable than toddlers and usually can handle longer activities. However, they still require frequent breaks and might not remember the trip as they get older but we don’t mind that part.
  • School-Age Kids (6-12 Years) Now we’re talking! This age group is often considered the golden age for family travel. They’re old enough to engage with the culture, enjoy various activities, and even carry their own backpacks. Plus, they’re still young enough to be wowed by the simplest things and enjoy spending time with you. It’s a win-win!
  • Teens (13-17 Years) Traveling with teens can be incredibly rewarding. They can fully engage in the experience, learn from it, and even help with planning and navigation. The downside? Well, they’re teenagers, which means they might not always be thrilled about spending so much time with the family. But hey, the shared experiences can be a great bonding opportunity.

Get Familiar with TSA Rules for International Travel with Kids

You avoid problems when you know the rules and understand them fully.

Flying with Formula? Infant formula, breast milk, and juice that exceeds 3.4 ounces can be carried in a carry-on bag, but travelers must notify the TSA before screening. TSA has a web page dedicated to traveling with children with more details, so review this to help you prepare for your trip.

What do I need to travel internationally with my child?

Before you pack those bags and head off to explore ancient ruins or frolic on a secluded beach, there are some essential things you’ll need to sort out. Here’s the rundown:

  • Passport for Everyone

First things first, everyone needs a valid passport, and that includes your little explorers. Make sure to apply well in advance, as processing times can vary. Also, double-check that the passports are valid for at least six months beyond your planned return date.

  • Visas

Depending on your destination, you might need a visa. Some countries offer visas on arrival, but others require you to apply in advance. Make sure you know the rules for each country you’ll be visiting.

  • Notarized Consent Letter

If only one parent is traveling with the child, it’s generally a good idea to have a notarized letter of consent from the other parent. This letter should state that the parent not traveling gives permission for the child to travel internationally. Trust me, it can save you a lot of hassle at border crossings.

  • Immunizations and Health Precautions

Check if any vaccinations are required or recommended for your destination. Also, it’s wise to pack a basic first-aid kit and any prescription medications you or your child may need.

  • Travel Insurance

Don’t overlook this! Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers both you and your child. Look for policies that include emergency medical coverage.

  • Copies of Important Documents

Make photocopies of all essential documents like passports, visas, and travel insurance. Keep a set with you and leave another set with someone you trust back home.

  • Snacks and Entertainment

Okay, this might not be a “requirement,” but any parent knows that snacks and entertainment are lifesavers on long journeys. Pack some healthy snacks and a few games or download some movies to keep the kiddos entertained.

  • Local Emergency Numbers

Have a list of emergency contact numbers for your destination, including the nearest embassy or consulate, local emergency services, and perhaps even a recommended medical facility.

  • Cultural Awareness

Last but not least, it’s a fantastic idea to teach your child a bit about the culture and customs of the destination you’ll be visiting. It’s not just educational but also respectful to the locals.

Air Travel with Kids

While car seats aren’t required for children on airplanes,  the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends car seats for children who weigh less than 40 pounds, so a ticket must be purchased for them. It must be an FAA approved car seat if you choose to bring one.  Be sure to carefully look at the airline’s rules, as well, to be sure your seat meets certain dimensions required.  Some seats are not airline compatible.  Not all airline seats are the same.

Lap child – If a child is less than two years old, they can be carried free of charge onto a plane and sit on the lap of an adult. While they do not need a ticket, you may need to indicate when purchasing your ticket that you will be traveling with a lap child and bring some form of documentation for the child, such as a birth certificate.

Learn more about the FAA’s car seat rules on airplanes from their dedicated web page.

Always check the airline’s policies to be certain about what items you are allowed to bring on board as they all have different rules and allowances.

TSA PreCheck with Kids (or Global Entry or CLEAR)

Before you purchase one of these known traveler programs which makes it faster and easier to get through TSA security checkpoints, make sure you know how your children are treated with each membership.

  • PreCheck allows children under the age of 16 to travel with parents freely. 
  • Global Entry does not allow a child free access.  You have to apply for each child separately.
  • CLEAR allows free access for your children traveling with you under 18.  At the CLEAR Pod in participating airports, you will scan your boarding pass and confirm your identity through fingerprint or Iris scan and then be escorted to the physical screening with a TSA agent.

CLEAR + Precheck is the fastest way through TSA. 

Some credit cards have perks that reimburse you for these fees as a benefit.  If you travel often, you may want to consider getting one of these:

Remember that just because you have one of the trusted traveler programs does not mean that you will not be subject to a random ID check, body scan, or hand swipe from time to time. Try to keep things easy by putting all electronics like tablets and laptops in an easy to reach place if you have to take it out.

Stick to things that can easily be taken off if necessary when it comes to sweaters, jackets, and shoes. I try to avoid belts and excessive jewelry including cute hair accessories in order to limit my chances to win that lottery. As these special selection moments can cause chaos for the kids and really slow you down.

Carry an empty but refillable water cup and as soon as you get through TSA, fill it up instead of buying water. The collapsible ones save space and money.

Airport Lounge Access for Kids

Some lounge memberships allow for children to enter the airport lounge with an adult member.  Watch carefully in 2023 as this is changing for some programs and children will now be charged for entry. Check the lounge you are going to and your membership rules prior to travel.

Some credit cards have lounge memberships as an additional perk available to cardholders or you can purchase an annual priority pass membership separately as well.

When booking a flight, you may be able to add on lounge access for some flights.  Access under certain circumstances is not always guaranteed so read the rules carefully to avoid surprises.

International Travel with Kids: Passports

When it comes to kids and passports, there are a few things you need to know

  • The first requirement for traveling internationally is a passport for children, even infants. 
  • Anyone under 16 must apply for a passport in person with the consent of both parents/guardians.
  • Children’s passports are only valid for 5 years.
  • Passports should always be renewed at least 9 months before they expire in order to avoid delays and issues while traveling.

Learn more about children and passports on the State Department’s website.

A great way to keep your passports handy and organized is in the easy to carry travel neck wallet.  It has RFID blocking and can be tucked away inside your shirt or jacket, safe and secure.

Plan to Succeed

Use your flight travel time wisely by planning around sleeping and eating schedules to avoid as much disruption as possible.  Bring snacks for picky eaters.  Some people like to add a kids travel bed or a bag with travel books for kids. Any of these also make great kids travel gifts too.

We have found disposable lavender eye masks that helped everyone go right to sleep on our flight. 

Disposable warming eye masks

One of the best travel pillows for kids is a super soft and cuddly pillow/blanket, it works well on flights, in the car, and in hotels when an extra blanket or the favorite blanket is needed.

Travel pillow/blanket

I like a liner for public restroom stops and it can happen all too frequently that bathroom essentials can be missing sometimes.  For this reason, I carry these amazing toilet seat liners.  I love them because of the extra length in front to cover little legs and their clothes from touching the bottom of the commode.  

Disposable toilet seat liners

One more thing that comes in pretty handy is wipes, even when you think you don’t need them anymore because everyone is out of diapers.  Disinfecting wipes clean up everything on the go, don’t leave home without some.

Honest wipes

The most important purchase when you’re planning to succeed is to anticipate failures by having travel insurance.  Make sure you understand any coverage provided by the credit cards you use and have ample additional resources or insurance for any shortages or problems that could occur.

Travel Light

It’s hard to bring everything you might need and still make travel easy and fun.  Bring only the absolutely necessary essentials to keep travel as light as possible and be prepared to make stops along the way that address the families ongoing needs.  You will be surprised by how much you don’t actually “need”.  

When traveling on bargain airlines where you’ve saved by limiting luggage, just make a point of heading to a local drugstore, convenience store, or dollar store to get some low cost essentials.  This works very well for long trips abroad where you only want to bring carry-on bags.  Just buy the toiletries when you get there.  Scout possible stores near your hotel before you go so you’re prepared.

Not sure if you can travel light? Make a list of everything you will need for the trip. Once you have your list, see what you can leave behind. For example, do you really need that extra pair of shoes? Do you really need a heavy jacket or could you layer a sweater and light jacket? Trimming some of the items off will make your packing and managing luggage much easier.

If you’re still folding clothes to pack or just throwing things in the bag – STOP! I promise you, rolling your clothes will go so much smoother and help you fit more in with less fuss.  Packing cubes are the best way to stay organized and share a bag with the kids.  I like to assign a packing cube to each person and all of the clothes are separated into outfits which are rolled together.  This makes getting dressed and out to see the world a very simple process.

When rolling doesn’t work: If you purchase a hanging closet, it is better to loosely fold your items (wrinkle free clothing preferred).  If you try to roll, you won’t be able to compress the unit as well.

Portable Hanging Closet

Finally, there is another option that can work well too, especially if you are staying in one place for a while.  You can ship your luggage or a package to yourself if you really need those extra items but just don’t have enough hands to carry it all. Aside from UPS, you can check out ShipGo or Lugless.

Give Yourself A Break

While there are some that will stare at your child during a meltdown, most parents recognize you and your child’s frustration.  No one is judging you nearly as much as you might think at that moment because we’ve all been there or will be one day.  So, don’t be too hard on yourself or them when things aren’t going well.  Find a moment and space for both of you to free yourselves and feel better.

International Travel takes longer and requires more patience than domestic travel.  Once they’re used to it, it’ll get easier.  

Overall, just relax and enjoy your time together. Take advantage of the bonding experience that travel can provide with your family. You can make your trip enjoyable and hassle-free with a little bit of preparation by following these tips.

Canada – While it’s pretty easy to drive across the border to Canada, this might be a good first time international flight.  You’ll get to experience using your passport, a shorter flight, and depending on where you go, you could possibly interact with French speaking Canadians more.  It will be fairly easy to get along in English and as one of our closest neighbors, there probably won’t be as much culture shock to manage also.

DoubleTree by Hilton Montreal

Mexico – Our other neighbor that makes it easy to travel to and has many towns, hotels, and resorts that cater to American tourists thus also softening the culture shock that can come from International travel.

Hyatt Ziva Riviera Cancun – All Inclusive

Caribbean Islands – All of them offer a great chance to have a soft start with International travel, some even take US Dollars making no need for exchange rates as well.

Hol Chan Reef Resort and VIllas – Belize

Happy Wandering when You Travel Abroad with the Kids!

Do you travel internationally with your kids? What tips do you have for family travelers? Share them in a comment below.

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